Prince Rupert families and sports organizations are being affected by the COVID-19 new regulations for sports and play with restrictions that are not permitting parents to watch their child’s play or to even enter the recreational facility to get them dressed in gear.
Volunteers man the doors to complete health and wellness checks on each player prior to permitting them entry into the facility representatives from various sporting organizations told The Northern View. This is just one of the new rules implemented by the Ministry of Health, ViaSport and individual sport governing bodies to ensure safe play is conducted during the pandemic.
Nathan Rochon newly elected president of Prince Rupert Minor Hockey Association said there a lot of growing pains and restrictions for the league this year starting with a limit of 50 people in the arena during ice time. This includes players, coaches, volunteers and arena staff, which can prove difficult for such a large team sport.
With 171 players in the league this year, little ones need to attend practices fully geared up with skates tied on. Parents and caregivers deliver them to the door of the arena and are not permitted into the facility, Rochon said.
“We have 115 volunteers this year, and every one of them needs to take a COVID-19 awareness course through Hockey Canada,” Rochon said.
Restrictions are not just limited to local ice play, they affect the travel teams as well. Three Rep. teams were chosen at the season’s start and are required to play in four-team cohorts. Once the cohorts are finished playing each other, the teams must wait 14 days under COVID-19 restrictions before moving on to play in the next cohort.
Ice time is limited for various reasons and so other user groups can use the ice. The complex facilities need to be cleaned in-between age groups using the arena. Rochon said it makes scheduling games very difficult and the league is having to alternate ice time for various levels to accommodate each group getting in limited practice.
What used to be regular ice time of two and half hours per week for some age groups is now down to 1 hour every ten days for others, he said.
“We’re just so happy that the kids get to play and that there is hockey right now,” Rochon said. “I have great expectations as long as B.C. doesn’t shut down sports or hockey or change the number from 50 to 20.”
“I think you’ll see some parents that have more struggle than anybody with it (the restrictions) but the kids – it won’t matter to the kids who’s in the stands. It’s all about playing the game.”
CIHL – Rampage
Playing the game is currently not what The Rupert Rampage is doing. The Central Interior Hockey League (CIHL) team is practicing just once a week, Travis McNeice, team president said, but the team is ready to score as soon as the go-ahead is given.
The fan-based sport is reliant on revenues from spectator participation, McNeice said.
“Unfortunately we are in a holding pattern as far as the league goes. They may have allowed the league to go on, but without fans it just doesn’t work for us,” he said.
“We want it to be a fun place for people to go. We don’t want spectators sitting on their hands. We want them yelling and screaming. We want them to know we are ready to go.”
This year the team has a Prince Rupert base of 10 to 12 players, with some skaters coming from out of town for games in a usual season. Practices are held on a Thursday night and anyone who wants to try out for the team can stop by at the practice, McNeice said.
The league is following Hockey Canada COVID-19 guidelines with only eight to 10 masked players in the dressing rooms at a time to allow for social distancing. The team hits the ice at 9 p.m. after the minor hockey league, and rink attendants have an hour to clean and sanitize in between users.
The team’s season, which usually starts with pre-games in late Sept. or early Oct sees nine teams in the league competing for the Coy Cup until March each year.
“We are all hoping for a late start. We are watching other leagues to see if we can implement anything to get it going. Until we can get a solid fan base there is no way we can go forward.”
“Our sponsors are solid, they are still there. Everyone in town wants to help out as much as they can. We have the best solid fan base in the league,” McNeice said.
Like every athlete, he said the players want to be out there playing and are not just disappointed with the lack of ice time or games.
“They have the funnest times when they are out there playing and when they are interacting with the people of Prince Rupert.”
The players miss the community interaction like “Reading with Rampage” where team members go into schools and read to students. The team president said currently due to the pandemic there is nothing happening for the team to interact and share with the public as they usually do.
“People will attest that the Rampage like to get out in the community. They like to support the community as the community supports them.”
Prince Rupert Figure Skating Club expects to see a perpetual effect of COVID-19 as the pandemic restrictions have affected registration this year, Carissa Easingwood president of the club said.
Skaters are aged from three years old to 16.
“Our ice time has been pretty good.We’ve been able to stay almost the same as usual. We have around eight hours of ice time in total.
COVID-19 has definitely affected the skating club Easingwood said, with the biggest hurt wounding the youngest skaters.
“This year we are not allowed to have the ‘Precan skate” program for our littlest skaters,” she said. “We can’t have anyone who cannot fall down and get up on their own. So that takes away about 20 to 30 skaters that we’re not allowed to have this year. So that’s been pretty tough for us.”
She said with not being able to accept registrations from new skaters into the Precan Skate program the fallout will be felt in the next couple of years as there will be few skaters moving up the levels to the Canskate program. they simply will not have the fundamentals that are required in Canskate.
“So next year, where we should have had maybe 45 Can skaters, we are going to be missing 30 of them because they never skated this year. Where they should have been on the ice this year they can not progress to the next level,” she said.
The capping of numbers is financially difficult for the club with senior numbers in the Star program limited to 18 skaters as well.
Easingwoods said COVID-19 restrictions for the club have included the need for separate entrances for different levels of skaters and athletes are skating in cohorts. For the Canskate program coaches and assistants must wear masks on the ice and volunteers The senior cohort is allowed up to 18 skaters and the Canskate is permitted up to 30.
Registration has also been affected by not being able to have the registration fairs and accept new members by email only.
“We are lacking a lot of attendance due to the parameters,” she said. “The Canskate program is currently still accepting registrations due to not having skater promotions from Precan Skate.”
For the Canskate level skaters don’t need a lot of skating ability, but as the instructors are not permitted to physically touch a child under the COVID regulations, skaters need to be able to move forward and get up on their own when they fall down. Skater who can tie their own skates can put them on in the rink, but otherwise, they need to attend dressed and ready to hit the ice.
Prince Rupert Curling Club president Natasha Lebedick said curlers are excited to get on to the ice now that the new plant has been installed at the sporting facility as the first phase of renovations.
Despite COVID-19 the second phase of renovations is progressing with a face-lift for the rental hall which is one of the largest in P.R., and then a rebuild of the adjacent kitchen and washrooms.
Lebedick said not being able to rent the upper-level and social area due to COVID-19 has been a “dampener” to the club.
On ice play will resume on Nov. 18 under the Curl B.C. guidelines in conjunction with ViaSport and Curl Canada, Lebedick said.
Each curling club has had to come up with a safety plan for its organizations and the Prince Rupert club has four-person teams to accommodate the new rules.
Lebedick said the new rules also mean there is only one sweeper permitted instead of two and markers are on the ice for social protocols. Locker rooms are closed and players need to come ice ready.
Usually, there would be an open house to promote enrollment and registrations, however, this can not occur this year under the pandemic rules, she said.
Players are capped at 50 per space in the curling club. This means up t0 50 players can be on the ice and there can be up to 50 spectators in the viewing area, but this would be hard to manage Lebedick said.
Wednesday nights at the facility will host an open league and Fridays will be for mixed teams. Lebedick said they are looking into an extra league “but for now we are starting with this.”
Currently, there are 17 teams registered for Wednesdays and 14 teams for Fridays with club membership at just over 100 people.
“The COVID-19 plan is ever-changing,” Lebedick said. “We are not making masks mandatory. It is just a recommendation.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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Next week in Part 2, we will look at Basketball, racquet sports, swimming, golf and gymnastics.